Brock Lesnar has been the WWE Universal Champion for 474 days as of today. During that time, Lesnar has defended the title on pay-per-view events three times in 2017 (Survivor Series against AJ Styles was non-title) and three times in 2018. In addition to that, he has a handful of live event wins where he retained the title. The feeling, from WWE’s perspective, is that having Lesnar as a part-time champion makes him valuable. However, is it really a good thing to have no major Universal Title changes for four months? I don’t think so.
In case you missed WWE Raw this week, they set up two triple threat matches that were fun to watch. Roman Reigns won the first match and Bobby Lashley won the second match. The wins by both men mean that they will have a match next Monday on Raw with the winner of that match facing Lesnar for Universal Title at SummerSlam on August 19. It will be Lesnar’s first match since he retained the Universal Title against Reigns at the Greatest Royal Rumble on April 27. That’s a four-month gap between title defenses. Meanwhile, WWE Champion AJ Styles works a full-time schedule on the Smackdown brand including house shows. It’s what most people think a major champion in WWE “should” be doing.
How do WWE fans feel about this Lesnar title reign? They hate it. Trust me on that. A lot of fans complain to me about Lesnar as if it is his fault. The reality is, it’s not on him at all. Blame Vince McMahon if you want to blame anybody. Vince chooses to pay Brock, he makes the creative decisions in the company, and he is the one that has changed plans many times. There was a lot of truth in Vince McMahon’s promo on Raw in March of this year after Reigns said Brock was “Vince’s boy.” Both of them are really, but in the storyline, Brock clearly is.
In defense of Lesnar, remember that Lesnar had the leverage to sign a part-time WWE deal in 2012, then he extended that deal in 2015. At WrestleMania this year, we thought that was it for him in WWE because of his intentions to go back to UFC. Instead, Lesnar retained the title against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania in front of a booing crowd in what will be remembered as a surreal main event where it’s become obvious that WWE isn’t listening to their fans as much as they should.
Before I look ahead to the three men that could be the next Universal Champion, I want to backtrack a little just to mention that I’m a fan of Lesnar. I have been since he started in WWE in 2002. In 2016, I wrote an article here on The Comeback about how WWE was wasting Lesnar because they paid him all that money and they weren’t doing enough with him. Last August, I wrote that Lesnar’s value to WWE was higher than ever because of how excited people were to see him in the ring against guys like Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman (not so much Reigns). Right now, my feeling is it’s time to get that title off Lesnar. The ship has sailed, my friends.
Lesnar is advertised for Raw on Monday, July 30 in Miami. He’s also wrestling at SummerSlam on August 19 in Brooklyn and he’s scheduled for Raw the next night. After that, the expectation is that Lesnar will focus on his next UFC fight, likely against Daniel Cormier, early next year. Due to Lesnar’s suspension in UFC and just going back in the drug testing pool a few weeks ago, he is not eligible to fight in UFC until January 2019. Lesnar vs. Cormier is most likely going to be in February in March. Could Lesnar wrestle for WWE after SummerSlam? Perhaps, but I don’t expect it. There’s no point in risking injury when he should be focused on his UFC return with an intense training camp.
With SummerSlam on the horizon and Reigns/Lashley having the big match on Raw in Cincinnati next week, it’s time to break down the three men that have a chance to leave SummerSlam as the next Universal Champion. Yes, that’s right, I said three men. I’ll break them down in order of who I think it should be in order from worst choice to best choice.
3. Roman Reigns
Over the last three years, WWE’s plan has been to have Roman Reigns beat Brock Lesnar for a major championship title and he still hasn’t done it. It was SummerSlam 2014 when Lesnar beat John Cena for the WWE Title. The Shield broke up, Reigns got the monster push, won the Royal Rumble (the fans booed him even with The Rock by his side), and Seth Rollins left WrestleMania 31 as WWE Champion because the plan changed. Reigns eventually became WWE Champion later in 2015, but he did not beat Brock Lesnar to win the gold.
Fast forward to WrestleMania 33 in 2017. Lesnar beat Goldberg for the Universal Title and the plan was Reigns beating Lesnar for the Universal Title at WrestleMania 34 this year. The two men were kept apart for one year aside from a four-way match at SummerSlam. Lesnar beat the other key guys on Raw until it was Reigns’ turn to beat him at WrestleMania and the plan changed…again. At the Greatest Royal Rumble event on April 27 of this year, I thought Reigns would beat Lesnar for the title in a cage match. Nope. It didn’t happen there either.
Reigns is one match away from beating Lesnar again. I can’t imagine WWE, in good conscience, setting up that match again in a one on one match. That’s why I think Reigns vs. Lashley could easily end in a finish where it’s a double countout or double disqualification where nobody wins. They could do a disputed finish where there’s a double pin. By doing that, it could set up a triple threat at SummerSlam with Lesnar vs. Reigns vs. Lashley and maybe even Strowman could be added to it since he’s Mr. Money in the Bank.
Could Reigns beat Lashley and then leave SummerSlam as Universal Champion? Absolutely. I think there’s a very good chance of it happening because of the three-year story of Reigns being unable to beat Lesnar. The problem is, the fans don’t want it. They are sick of Reigns, they are tired of this chase, and I think if WWE had Reigns beat Lesnar, then you would hear more boos than if it was the biggest heel in the history of wrestling winning that title. Reigns could still beat Lesnar, but not leave SummerSlam as Universal Champion, though. I’ll get to that shortly.
I think Reigns leaving SummerSlam as champion would be a big mistake. The timing isn’t right and clearly, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is second-guessing the plan because he has changed the plan with Reigns twice in the last three years. I seriously doubt that Reigns will leave SummerSlam as WWE Universal Champion.
2. Bobby Lashley
The reason I like Lashley over Reigns is because of how much the fans have rejected Reigns. I’m not anti-Reigns and I don’t think Reigns is a bad performer, but it’s stupid to keep ignoring the fans like WWE has been doing.
If Lashley were to beat Lesnar in a singles match, it would raise Lashley’s profile in a big way. It was obvious that WWE had high hopes for Lashley in the mid-2000s, but it didn’t work out and he left the company ten years ago. When Lashley was gone, he got better by working for TNA/Impact Wrestling. I watched a lot of the matches he had there, and noticed that he became more of a well-rounded performer. Is he the most charismatic guy out there? Absolutely not, but physically he certainly looks the part.
Lashley’s return to WWE after WrestleMania this year has produced mixed results. That feud with Sami Zayn was bad, and ended up as one of the worst storylines of the year. Since then, though, Lashley has picked things up thanks in part to feuding with Reigns. I liked their promos, I liked the brawl they had before the Extreme Rules and the win for Lashley over Reigns at Extreme Rules was pretty good.
I think by putting Lashley over Lesnar it gives WWE a new main event level performer that they can build around. Yes, Lashley is 42 years old (one year older than Lesnar), but he’s got the kind of body to make you think he’s going to be around for a few more years. Lashley has never won a World Title in WWE (we’re not going to count the ECW Title as being at that level), and winning the Universal Title could legitimize him in the eyes of fans that complain that the company doesn’t elevate enough people. Lashley could be that guy.
Lashley is a better choice than Reigns, but he is not the best choice. There is somebody else fits that description.
1. Braun Strowman
Braun Strowman won the Money in the Bank contract ladder match last month, which means he gets to challenge the Universal Champion whenever he wants. It can be a surprise cash-in like we’ve seen many times before or Strowman could announce when he wants to have his title match. In other words, Strowman could say he wants to be a part of the SummerSlam main event and add himself to the match. Remember, last year’s SummerSlam main event was a four-way for the Universal Title with Lesnar defending against Reigns, Strowman, and Samoa Joe, so we could see something like that again.
Strowman leaving SummerSlam as Universal Champion is a no brainer to me. It could be argued that he should have won the title last year at SummerSlam or the next month at No Mercy, but WWE was set on giving Lesnar that really long title reign. This year? There’s absolutely no reason not to have Strowman leave with the title.
Here are four scenarios for Strowman at SummerSlam:
1. Lesnar vs. Reigns is the match. Reigns wins the Universal Title in the match, he’s exhausted after it’s over, the crowd is booing him, Strowman walks out with Money in the Bank, he cashes in, and beats Reigns to leave as the Universal champion. It could lead to Reigns becoming a heel because he’s so mad about what happened, but I’m not sure if WWE is going to go that route.
2. Lesnar vs. Lashley is the match. Same scenario as above with Lashley winning the title, Strowman cashes in, and leaves with the title.
3. Lesnar retains the Universal Title in a singles match or a triple threat. The crowd will absolutely hate it because they are so sick of Lesnar’s title reign. Fans will probably chant for Strowman and that’s when Strowman can enter to a huge ovation. Strowman can cash in on Lesnar and become the Universal Champion to end SummerSlam on a happy note.
4. Just as Lesnar vs. Lashley vs. Reigns is about to begin, Strowman’s music hits. Strowman grabs the microphone and does a simple promo: “Fatal Fourway!” The crowd goes wild. They cheer on Strowman the entire time, Strowman pins Reigns and leaves with the Universal Champion. I can see WWE not wanting to have Lesnar take the pin to make it look like he didn’t get beat, so that’s what I think they might do in that situation.
My preference is the fourth scenario.
Will it happen like that or any of the other scenarios? I have no idea. It’s up to Vince McMahon. I guess we’ll find out together at SummerSlam on August 19. Here’s hoping WWE listens to their “universe” and delivers a memorable moment to end the show with Braun Strowman as the Universal Champion. He deserves it the most.